Blackstreet Level II

DreamWorks Records

To reappropriate a phrase that was prominent during the boy band boom: Blackstreet’s back, alright! The enthusiasm betrayed by the preceding sentence is actually unwarranted, though, because Blackstreet’s Blackstreet Level II is an inconsistent record afflicted by too much filler and an identity crisis. The group’s return to relevancy seems as though it will be fleeting and unmemorable.

The pain of missed opportunity will likely exacerbate those two problems. Jodeci’s unfortunate and untimely disbanding created a niche in R&B that still has yet to be filled: the definitive, lascivious, thug collective as comfortable singing backup for 2Pac as they are belting out meaningful love songs like “Cry for You.” With apologies to imposters like 112 and youngsters like B2K, no group seems qualified for the task except Blackstreet, an ensemble that has previously displayed an ability to seamlessly blend the streets (“No Diggity,” “Get Me Home”) with the heart (“Joy,” “Physical Thing”). It is into the Jodeci-created vacuum that Blackstreet could have stepped on Level II, however their attempt – if it was a conscious one – seems half-hearted, uncommitted.

Instead, the group uses 15 tracks of generally uninspired music to mostly go through the motions. “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye” is a fine effort with a midtempo beat that should provide Blackstreet with a schematic for future endeavors because the group’s strength lies in these productions. An additional asset on Level II is “Why, Why,” a song bearing a tempo similar to “Goodbye” and an unmistakable “Human Nature sample. (Does Michael Jackson have a more underrated song?) However, there are also too many songs like “She’s Hot,” which is musically nondescript and makes Blackstreet sound like anyone else.

The record has plenty of slow jams and professions of love, too, however, none carry the gravity and yearning expressed in songs like Jodeci’s “Freak’n You.” Comparing the two groups is unfair to some extent because Blackstreet is guided by creative and production force Teddy Riley, so Blackstreet has always seemed more interested in greater innovation and musical growth. However, some of the more experimental songs, like “Don’t Touch,” seem to lead the group astray. If they focused on slower joints with more soul, they would be better served.

In Blackstreet’s defense, the group has struggled through discord and departures (remember Dave Hollister?), so their artistic momentum and continuity have been disrupted for a while. Perhaps Level II will help them sort out their identity so that they can produce a follow up record worthy of their potential status. R&B is feenin’ for it.

Rating: 2 1/2 Stars

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